Adult self-soothing

I must say, the reaction to last month's post The Ladder of Addiction was quite overwhelming.

Aside from the 355 comments we logged before we shut them off to give the poor moderator a break, I got in excess of 300 emails from readers with stories of their own experiences with addiction or that of a relative or friend.

There was tons of great advice, varying from meditation, medication, to seeking help from support groups such as AA and NA, psychiatric counselling, fitness and variations of Harden The F--- Up (expletive warning on that video).

I discussed all of these with my mate, who's taken the huge step forward of admitting he is an addict and been a month off the booze already - but this time it's an open-ended commitment.

He's not saying, "I'm off for a month", he's saying "I'm a problem drinker and I have to learn to live without it".

Another mutual friend suggested to me that, as destructive as our mate's habits were, they were not much different to a baby sucking on its thumb trying to soothe itself.

If you've had children or experience with them, you'll know the concept of "self-soothing" is a massive hurdle for children, with experts disagreeing completely over how it should be done best.

Do you pick the kid up when she cries? Do you leave them to cry and settle themselves? Do you walk a line in between?

What we do know about children is those that learn to adequately self-soothe - in other words, calm themselves down when they've become distressed for one reason or another - usually go on to become better "adjusted" adults.

Of course, this is very difficult for kids to learn if they live in violent, dysfunctional or neglectful situations, so the more stability a child has, the better the chance they'll learn this vital tool.

My mate suggested our mutual friend hadn't mastered this art as a kid and, whenever he feels stressed, lonely, sad or negative, he choses a cigarette, booze or drugs to soothe himself because he's not learned any other method.

"My dad has five brothers and every one of them has huge alcohol or marijuana problems, all of them in their 50s and 60s," he said.

"His dad was a drunk, and all the boys followed in his footsteps, using booze and drugs to soothe themselves. My dad, however, discovered Christianity."

So my mate had grown up Born Again because his dad was, and though that presented its own set of problems for him as a youth, he went to church a lot instead of getting on the piss or smoking bongs.

"I'm not a religious person now, but I definitely saw how my dad used it as a self-soothing method, and I've developed my own," he said.

This mate also grew up poor. His dad was often unemployed, so as a child, he was allowed to bring anything home he found on the streets to play with to make up for the lack of toys.

Bizarrely, for him, he finds it soothing to do the opposite now he's an adult.

"I live in a really big apartment block and have gradually realised there's quite a few people doing it tough in my building," he told me last week.

"I'm really trying to de-clutter my life and get rid of things I don't need and not buy more stuff just for the sake of it."

So he finds himself constantly looking at a never-used blender, or cushions or cutlery set, and he puts them in his foyer with a note saying "Works great. Please feel free to take if needed."

With a smiley face.

"Within half an hour, usually whatever it is, is gone," he said.

"And it's really quite powerful how good it makes me feel, probably because I remember how cool it was to find something useful or fun on the street when I was a child."

Obviously, this is not an option for our mutual friend, who still has a lot of issues to confront. But I found it a refreshing perspective on the topic of addiction.

Running marathons. Shopping for shoes. Collecting stamps. Playing golf. Bodybuilding. Overwork. These are all ways that adults 'constructively' self-soothe.

Sure, they're a lot less dangerous than smoking, alcoholism or drugs, but I found my friend's non-judgmental view of addiction quite visionary.

How do you self-soothe?

You can follow Sam on Twitter here. His email address is here.

Please don't take it personally if I do not reply to your email as they come in thick and fast depending on the topic. Please know, I appreciate you taking the time to write and comment and would offer mummy hugs to all.